Thrifting is an art, and those who accept its challenges are often rewarded with retro regalia, colorful home decor and, occasionally, fabulous one-of-a-kind finds. Of course, finding a valuable ancient artifact—or just a good deal—isn't as easy as it sounds.
Virginia Chamlee, a journalist, artist and avid thrifter, is here to help fledgling shoppers with her new book, Big Thrift Energy: The Art and Thrill of Finding Vintage Treasures—Plus Tips for Making the Old Feel New, a handy guide to shopping for affordable vintage home decor and styling it in a modern home.
Born in North Georgia, Chamlee moved to Ponte Vedra when she was just two years old and was raised by her grandmother, a resale clothing and furniture store owner, who was the catalyst for her granddaughter's love affair with thrifting.
“I have never been someone who wants a full dining room set from a department store,” Chamlee says. She believes there's beauty in thrifting an item with history attached to it, because it makes the purchase more meaningful.
And she knows from experience. Once, after turning off on a random road during rush hour, Chamlee and her grandmother wandered into an old wicker store with no agenda other than avoiding the boredom of sitting in traffic.
What they found made the stop worth it—and then some: a Goyard trunk worth upward of $10,000 wedged in the back of an old shed. It was priced at just $90.
“I took it home, paid to have it authenticated, and sure enough, it was real,” Chamlee proudly recalls.
Her infatuation with vintage apparel and decor quickly expanded into an enterprise. “About seven years ago, I started selling some of the extra pieces I had collected, which started my side business," Chamlee explains. “I didn’t want to just sell them on Craigslist because I knew no one would really appreciate them.”
Her social media blew up. Turns out, Chamlee's love of sourcing vintage pieces, combined with her journalism skills, were the perfect skills for starting a thrifting business.
“My research techniques are often used in thrifting,” she says. They were also essential for writing Big Thrift Energy, a comprehensive guide for those looking to refine their thrifting techniques and score better buys.
While Chamlee’s book is centered around the art of thrifting, it also covers why being unique is an important value. “I paint things for myself, things that I would want in my house,” she explains. “If that resonates with other people, great.”
“I am a self-made person and have always done what I wanted to do, which has helped me gain confidence and lose fear of what people think of you,” she continues.
Being unique comes with its perks, but Chamlee also urges thrifters to branch out and make friends. There's always competition, but Chamlee believes it’s important to create a sense of community. “I have a section in my book titled 'Friends With Benefits,' because the people you’re interacting with can only help you,” she says. “There is more than enough vintage to go around, and most of us have our own aesthetic, anyway.”
Chamlee adds that since the pandemic, our homes have become more than just places where we go to sleep at night. “They're where we work, where we spend our sick days, where we sometimes teach our kids or work out,” she says. “You want that space to be as comfortable, beautiful and fun as possible. I want to spread that around.”
She hopes her readers will gain confidence in building their homes the way they want after reading the book. “So many Instagram accounts look the same," she says. "Your home does not have to be like that.”
Read on for three of Chamlee's top thrifting tips.
Gather inspiration, whether that be on TikTok or Pinterest, to narrow down what you're looking for.
Research, research, research
Researching design styles, reading articles in Architectural Digest or checking out Domino can help you figure out your aesthetic, whether it's boho, mid-century modern or maximalist. Explore what you like rather than what's trending.
Leave room for surprises
When you go thrifting, you can have ideas in mind. But leaving space for a surprise ensures that when you see something extraordinary, you can scoot your well-manicured Pinterest board over to make room for it.